Two Gitxsan hereditary chiefs have filed a court challenge in a bid to block Pacific NorthWest LNG's plans to construct a massive terminal in British Columbia.
The two leaders of house groups called Gwininitxw and Luutkudziiwus are asking the Federal Court to quash Ottawa's approval of plans to build a liquefied natural gas terminal on Lelu Island, located in the Port of Prince Rupert.
Yvonne Lattie of Gwininitxw and Charlie Wright of Luutkudziiwus, who also go by the names of their respective house groups, say LNG development will harm salmon habitat.
They filed an application on Tuesday for a judicial review of the federal Liberal cabinet's decision in September to give the go-ahead to the proposal to construct a $11.4-billion terminal.
In October, the Gitwilgyoots tribe of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, the Gitanyow hereditary chiefs and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust became the first three organizations to seek a court order that would quash the cabinet's approval of Pacific NorthWest LNG.
The latest legal filing marks the fourth application in Federal Court against the project led by Malaysia's state-owned Petronas.
The Gitwilgyoots tribe is one of nine allied tribes of the Lax Kw'alaams First Nation, which claims Flora Bank and Lelu Island as part of its traditional territory. The key concern is the threat to Flora Bank, a sandbar next to the proposed export terminal site on Lelu Island in the Skeena River estuary.
The traditional territories of the Gitanyow and Gitxsan are in the upper Skeena watershed, roughly 150 to 300 kilometres northeast of Flora Bank.
Ms. Lattie and Mr. Wright say they are worried about the impact of the Petronas-led project on their fishing along the Skeena River. "We need to enhance our salmon, not destroy it," Ms. Lattie said during a news conference in Vancouver, where a dozen glass jars containing Skeena sockeye salmon were on display.
The lawsuit names the respondents as the federal cabinet, the federal Environment Minister, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) and Pacific NorthWest LNG. "The salmon fishery is a mainstay of Gitxsan culture and economy," according to the legal document.
Ten Gitxsan hereditary chiefs have publicly said they are in favour of TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline. That pipeline would transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to the planned LNG export terminal on Lelu Island.
Despite the internal rift within the Gitxsan, Luutkudziiwus spokesman Richard Wright said his house group and the Gwininitxw oppose both the Lelu Island site and plans for the pipeline that would cross 34 kilometres of traditional territory known as Madii Lii. There has been a Madii Lii protest camp since August, 2014, to draw attention to the pipeline's environmental risks.
Mr. Wright said a strong majority of Gitxsan members believe the LNG project infringes on their aboriginal rights and the federal government failed to properly consult.
Donnie Wesley, a Gitwilgyoots hereditary chief who helped start a protest camp on Lelu Island in August, 2015, said the LNG consortium remains focused on building the liquefaction plant on that island.
Other projects hold the LNG development rights in and around Prince Rupert, including Royal Dutch Shell PLC on Ridley Island.
"It's speculation but if Petronas wants to put a docking facility on Ridley Island, there would need to be a full environmental inspection. The terminal would still be on Lelu Island and there isn't a backup plan," Mr. Wesley said in an interview.
In October, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna defended the federal cabinet's approval. "This project underwent a three-year rigorous and thorough science-based process that evaluated and incorporated mitigation measures that will minimize the environmental impacts," she said in a statement issued by her department and CEAA.
Pacific NorthWest LNG has emphasized that it has consulted with five Tsimshian First Nations – the Metlakatla; Kitselas; Gitxaala; Kitsumkalum; and Lax Kw'alaams.
British Columbia has 20 LNG proposals, although fierce global competition means only three or four stand a chance of launching over the long term, industry experts say.